Benedict empty-handed

» Before God, these men do not boast of their deeds », wrote Benedict XVI about the apostles. And, drawing on the thoughts of another theologian whose 150th birthday we celebrate on January 2, Thérèse of Lisieux, the pope-professor added these words which certainly evoked his own attitude before God: « These men know that they are also interiorly poor, that they love while simply receiving what God gives them, and it is precisely in this that they live in intimate harmony with the being and the word of God. When Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said that one day she would appear before God with empty hands and that she would hold them out to him, she was describing the spirit of these poor people of God: they arrive empty-handed, these hands do not grasp not, do not hold back, they open up and give, ready to abandon themselves to the goodness of God who gives. »

He let go again and again

By humbly accepting what he was made for and devoting himself to it tirelessly, Benedict XVI experienced his poverty throughout his life. It was first of all before the greatness and goodness of this God whose face, from his youth, as a theologian, he sought to try to make him better known to the world. By becoming a priest, then by accepting the duties of bishop, and finally of pope – a task for which it has been so often said that he did not feel made – he abandoned himself again and again.

His pontificate, however, both in terms of teaching and of the reform of the Church – it was he who, with courage, first tackled the frightening scandals which gnawed at it and disfigured it – will have been of rare richness and fertility. Only one can regret, but perhaps it is a very human reading of events, that the poverty of Pope Benedict experienced one of its most glaring expressions in his inability to communicate according to the methods of the world and, therefore, to get rid of an image of hardness and coldness which choked all those who had had the chance to approach him physically or intellectually, and who testified to his gentleness and generosity.

The humble posture of the servant

In February 2013, on the day of his voluntary and unexpected renunciation, his poverty, his humble posture as a servant, who no longer felt able to assume the tasks incumbent on him, had finally burst in the face of men, so unaccustomed to see one of them relinquish power and honours. Generosity and detachment form a language capable of reconciling the world with Christianity.

Benedict XVI did not have worldly glory or passing satisfactions as his horizon. The extraordinary teacher that he was – as much for the depth and originality of his thought as for the clarity of his expression – had devoted his first encyclical to the great affair of his life: God is love. And in his great text on hope, Spe salvi, taking up Saint Augustine, he also noted that, » Basically, we want only one thing: “the blissful life”, the life which is simply life, simply happiness. In the end, we don’t ask for anything else in prayer. We are not walking towards anything else. »

He was waiting for the bliss that his master had once promised on a mountain in Galilee, despite the paradoxical path of stripping then designated as the only one capable of fulfilling this expectation: Blessed are the poor in heart. After the ultimate surrender, no doubt he comes before his Lord empty-handed. Like an apostle, like a poor person, like a child. Trying to imagine Heaven, he had simply confided one day: « I look forward to seeing my parents, my brother and my sister, my friends again and to imagine that everything will once again be as beautiful as at home. »


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